San Francisco

Winds of Change Blowing for New San Francisco Clean Energy Plan

San Francisco will roll-out the program in May beginning with neighborhoods in the Southeast and Central San Francisco.

After years of planning and political jousting, San Francisco is poised to launch its Clean Power SF program — which for the first time will give the city’s energy consumers the option to buy renewable power directly from the city instead of PG&E.

The program, known as community choice aggregation, is similar to one already offered in Marin County where consumers are automatically enrolled and then have the choice to opt out. San Francisco will roll-out the program in May beginning with neighborhoods in the Southeast and Central San Francisco.

“We’re looking to begin the program with 50 megawatts worth of customers,” said Barbara Hale, the San Francisco Public Utility Commission’s assistant general manager in charge of public power.

The SFPUC will offer a two-tiered plan; residents can choose to purchase 35-50 percent clean power at a rate that’s slightly lower than PG&E’s. They can also purchase 100 percent renewable power at a rate Hale said is slightly higher than PG&E’s. Whichever option consumers choose, the energy will still be delivered through PG&E’s transmission lines and consumers will continue to receive a statement through the utility company.

“It’s the opportunity for San Francisco businesses and residents to make their own decision about electricity supply,” Hale said, standing among a hundred-strong whirling wind turbine farm in Solano County that will provide 25 megawatts of San Francisco’s clean power.

San Francisco’s left-leaning supervisors have pushed for a city-run renewable energy plan for years. A plan passed by supervisors in 2013 grinder to a halt after opposition by Mayor Ed Lee. Lee was critical of the plan because it didn’t include enough local hiring and purchased the green power through Shell.

The new plan in which the city would buy power directly from clean energy suppliers has the mayor’s blessing. PG&E, which becomes a competitor to the city’s program, has plans to raise an exit fee for customers transferring to the new program. The utility said it nonetheless supports the city’s community choice aggregation program.

“At the same time, we respect the energy choices that are available to our customers,” PG&E said in a statement, “and will continue to cooperate with local government as they consider pursuing and/or developing a CCA program.”

The city’s initial green offering will come partially from the rolling green hills of Solano County — where hundreds of wind turbines churn in the Montezuma Hills Wind Resource Area. San Francisco has contracted with the Shiloh Wind Power Project to supply a portion of its energy supply.

“Here’s just what I consider the new beautiful,” said Shiloh plant manager Larry Wilson, standing beneath a turbine. “We pick up all the wind coming off the San Francisco Bay.”

In a gesture of natural reciprocity, the wind blowing across the bay to the wind farm will be harnessed and returned to San Francisco in the form of clean energy. Eventually, San Francisco hopes to roll-out the program city-wide — with the potential for customers to purchase all their energy from clean sources outside PG&E.

“The ultimate goal,” Hale said, “is to have San Francisco have the option for 100 percent renewable power.”

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